Visiting Assistant Professor Spotlight: Frederic Clark


While at ISAW I am investigating a topic that has long troubled scholars of the ancient world, from antiquity itself to the present day—namely, forgery. Whether one studies ancient China, the ancient Near East, or classical Greece and Rome, archeologists, art historians, epigraphers, philologists and the like often encounter a common problem: how do we know whether a given text, object, coin, or inscription is authentic? Or perhaps to put it more directly, how do we know that something which claims to be “ancient” is really so? These questions raise a more profound conceptual quandary: what gets to count as truly ancient? And where do we draw the line between an “ancient” past and its not-so-ancient counterparts?

My research is concerned in broad terms with this fraught relationship between antiquity and authenticity. What specific definitions of the ancient prompted scholars both past and present to distinguish between the true and false, the genuine and the fake? I am tackling this question through the lens of micro-history, and am currently writing a book on a forgery that captivated (and fooled) readers for over a millennium—The History of the Destruction of Troy or the De excidio Troiae historia of Dares the Phrygian. Dares claimed to have been an eyewitness to the Trojan War, and as such he was long praised by medieval and Renaissance readers as nothing less than the “first pagan historian.” In reality, however, Dares was an ingenious trickster, who cleverly rewrote a history already deemed ancient in antiquity itself. As such, he enjoyed a spectacular afterlife: medieval historians used him to trace the genealogies of their kingdoms back to Troy, and medieval poets used his account of the Trojan War to compose epics that might rival the likes of ancients like Virgil. Yet in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a growing chorus of critics began to cast doubt upon Dares’ text. In doing so, they too appealed to notions of antiquity, arguing that the language and style of the text were too crude and inept to be a genuine specimen of ancient culture and learning. As I hope to show, “antiquity” has always been a moving chronological target. Moreover, the history of forgery reminds us that authenticity and its attendant anxieties are concepts inherent in the very notion of the ancient—whether expressed in the Greco-Roman world, Renaissance Europe, or today.  

Read Frederic Clark's full biography here